Sunday, August 6, 2017


A creepy introduction with a necking couple in a car in an isolated spot at night tells us that we are in the hands of someone who knows their genre. It develops into a twist (that, fortunately, I don't have to reveal) that tells us that knowledge of genre must also include awareness of its subversions. And then it's on as high school BFFs Sadie and McKayla begin their career as serial killers.  From that shift in viewpoint we get a massive game of spot the genre reference. Halloween, Friday the 13th, Carrie, Ginger Snaps, Heathers, Heavenly Creatures, Scream and many, many more: the gang's all here.

Like most of those titles Tragedy Girls plays less as horror than something from the darker corners of high school comedy. It deviates by omitting the struggle against the hierarchy fuelling those films. These girls are already popular and depend on the status quo to advance themselves even further. We never see their macabre blog that casts the local murders to an adolescent detail but we don't need to. In scenes like the obligatory triumphal strut down the school hall to a pop song we see them check their phones which loose flurries of animated love hearts rising in the light like soap bubbles. If the recent Unfriended depended on the compulsion of the Skype screen this one has gone beyond that to the minimal read of the mobile. So have the times. And that's the point.

The constant reference to genre classics is not just for cutes. As with the savvy teens of Scream these ones can cite chapter and verse and do so when the film itself isn't busy with that (and boy does it get busy). But while this was an innovation in Scream its an expectation of Tragedy Girls; we would think less of it if it trod a straighter path; it requires the smarts to focus the deeper field.

So, if it isn't misfits breaking through or dowds getting makeovers what are we doing here watching this? Well, we do get a big kill quota and some expertly constructed black jokes and, despite a slightly saggy middle act, we never feel less than catered to. But we also have to notice the youthful vulnerability, the overconfidence coupled with the fragility: these kids are still kids for all their force and that sends a chill. But the chill doesn't come from the gore or the suspense: it seeps out of the sight of the power of the unformed will to succeed and the readiness to spin it any way possible.

This is a Scream from Trump's America. The final image undoes every triumphal closing blast from John Hughes's high school of the 80s and bodes sequels we should both welcome and fear. BABY USA has woken and is screaming for its dummy. Stops the screaming but leads to more. Do we dare feed it with another ticket?

I honestly can't say I'd resist.

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